"Mad Men." "Revolutionary Road." Endless Updike remembrances. It's no secret that we're living in a time of nostalgia for the early sixties. And although many of the celebrated cultural products of that era pick apart gender constructs, there's one place where the media has seemed just fine with uncritically recreating the age of stay-at-home-moms, 9 to 5 dads, and traditional values: inside the White House.
Michelle Obama is lounging sultrily on the cover of Vogue. Her official biographyrefers to her "first and foremost" as "Malia and Sasha's mom." Her professional mentor, Valerie Jarrett, took to the airways shortly after Election Day to reassure America that "having a seat at …. the table and being co-president is not something [Michelle is] interested in doing." Yesterday, the first lady's main activity was giving culinary students a tour of the White House kitchen. And the New York Times style section is breathlessly conveying that the Obamas are tough love, do-your-chores kind of parents; none of that wishy washy, Me Generation self-esteem stuff.
And yet, in unscripted moments and with small gestures, you can see the old Michelle Obama emerging from behind the Jackie O facade. Most obviously, there is Michelle's tour of federal agencies, where she's been pitching her husband's stimulus package and thanking tens of thousands of bureaucrats for their service. A friend pointed out to me that these events are making Michelle more visible than Joe Biden. That's true. Don't look too closely, or you might see the Obamas' marriage for what it really is: something quite like the infamous "two for the price of one" that so terrified conservatives when it came to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
I'm not one to make too much of hair. But I have to say, I was struck by this swept-back, no-nonsense look that Michelle debuted at the Department of Transportation on Friday. The first lady is lovely with the sweet up-flip 'do she's been sporting since the campaign really got down and dirty. But with this new look, Michelle appears professional. And that's exactly what she is — even if, as she joked to a second grader earlier this month, the job she's got "doesn't pay much." (How much does it pay to play the full time role of first lady? Exactly nothing.)
–cross-posted at TAPPED